Place that exudes
pain & sorrow
A disembodied voice announced a name and then the age. It was a stark, dimly lit, undecorated hall. The hall had strings of small twinkling bulbs hanging from the roof. The names and ages announced were of children, aged between two and 16, who had been executed by the Nazis.
I was at Yad-Vashem — a memorial to the victims of Hitler’s Final Solution — in Jerusalem.
The Yad-Vashem sanctuary, a temple of memories, is dedicated to the millions of Jews brutally slaughtered by the Nazis. On the 99-foot high column in front of the building, the word zkor (remembrance) is inscribed. Inside is a complete documentary collection illustrating the persecution of the Jews from 1933 to 1945. The names of the 21 main concentration camps are also written here. During a brief ceremony, a flame is re-lit each morning at 11 o’clock.
Jerusalem has always
been at the crossroads between the past and the future, East and West.
Concentrated in only a few hundred feet are the Wailing Wall, the Omar
mosque and the Holy Sepulchre — the most important and sacred sites of
three principal monotheistic religions. Jerusalem is the backdrop for
any story on modern civilisation and contains a mosaic of cultures as
diverse as those of Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians and Drus, who live
together yet maintain their own distinct identity.
Next to the hall were photographs of pyramids of corpses in the concentration camps of Belzec, Sobibar, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenan. It was frightening to see photographic evidence of the hanging and beheading of Jews in synagogues, the rupture of their systems with water torture and mutilated bodies. In Yad-Vashem, even the atmosphere of that age has been authentically preserved.
Hitler wanted to make the country Judenfrei (Free of Jews). In this connection, and incident involving Hitler’s favourite actress, Leni Riefestahl, is worth mentioning. She had come to Lodz with a roving camera crew soon after the city fell. She saw a line of praying Jews executed with automatic weapons. She went straight to the Furher and told him that this was bad publicity for the Reich. Orders were then passed that the ‘sub-human’ population (Jews) should be disposed of at anonymous sites in central Europe and adequate disposal facilities were provided for the purpose.
In that hour of darkness, there were Germans who came to the aid of Jews and, at the cost of their personal safety, saved a large number of them. Outside Yad-Vashem, there are trees planted in their memory. One of the trees has been planted in memory of Oskar Schindler, who used his influence to save a large number of Jews.
The atmosphere of the place is
overwhelming. When Pope John Paul II visited Yad-Vashem, he remarked,
"Here the mind, the heart and the soul feel an extreme need for